I Think It's Folly

Susan Sontag (Annie Liebowitz) Susan Sontag in conversation with Kurt Andersen on Studio 360 (2.15.03) on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.


Kurt Andersen: I looked back before this program to read a piece you wrote in the New York Times Magazine a few years ago about Bosnia and the Balkans that was an absolutely spot-on, it seemed to me, critique of European in action and kind of - a kind of taken for granted European anti-Americanism, and as part of your argument for the need for us to intervene militarily. Does it strike you not as a contradiction at all, your feelings about that war and what I presume are your feelings about this war that we're about to be involved in, but perhaps I'm presuming too far.

Susan Sontag: Well, I think unfortunately, we are going to wage this war. We didn't move - our government didn't move 100,000 troops and all that material to Iraq to back off. This is a tough question, and one I think about a lot, I'm not against the proper use of American power. I'm absolutely for the intervention in Bosnia, I wish it had happened a lot earlier and I wish it had amounted to something. I'm for and continue to be for the intervention in Kosovo, even though I deplore the way in which it was pursued, which incurred a lot of unnecessary civilian deaths from American bombing. I wish that the Americans had intervened in Rwanda, which I think is the most single horrible thing that's happened anywhere in the past decades. I am against the punitive pre-emptive war in Iraq because I think it's folly. I think it won't accomplish what it's designed to accomplish. I think it is the wrong way to deal with this monstrous dictator, whose overthrow I ardently look forward to.

KA: But why was it right in Slobodan Milosevic's case and not here?

SS: Because it was bound to do what it could do at a very minimal cost of life. And this is opening a can of worms, a Pandora's box that will destabilize the whole region, that involves an imperial ambition that I don't think we're prepared to carry through. We may be prepared to kill a lot of people, civilians in Baghdad, I'm not sure we're prepared to rule the Middle East yet.

KA: Although we don't want to kill civilians in Baghdad.

SS: No, but if we decide to pursue a war in which the presumption is we will take ideally no casualties, then we will have to bomb. And I think it's folly, I think it's mad, I think it's dangerous.

KA: So you don't think there's a high possibility, or any possibility that you will be proven wrong by how the war goes?

SS: I pray to be proven wrong, but I don't believe it. I think it's much more dangerous and much more reckless. I'm against it for practical and political reasons. I'm not against it because it's a use of American power.

KA: In this time of war and rumors of war and imminent war perhaps, are there works of art that we should go to for explanation, illumination, solace?

SS: Well, I talked before about art as a platform for moral consciousness. What finally matters to me about the arts, whether it's literature or film or other dramatic arts or music or dance, is the way it deepens us, the way it extends our feelings, and tenderness and compassion and the ability just to recognize everyone's humanity, because in the end, the most important thing is that we are all human beings, including the people that commit these wicked acts.